Sister newspapers band together in storm’s wake

By Terri Flagg -

Terri Trenter, Beth Johnson and Jason Wood stack inserts in The Mount Airy News press room.

Jason Wood checks the press at The Mount Airy News

An issue with The Yadkin Ripple was the last thing the team of workers needed on Tuesday in the press room located at The Mount Airy News.

The crews have been working non-stop for more than a week printing not only the 10 publications produced at the Mount Airy location, but five additional publications.

Those papers, The Robesonian, The Sampson Independent and the Bladen Journal, had their operations interrupted by Hurricane Matthew, which hit last week.

Those papers’ press hub, located at The Robesonian’s Lumberton location, flooded.

“It’s destroyed,” said Editor Donnie Douglas. “I never imagined it could flood like it did there.”

The “waist-deep flooding” caused the loss of all the newspaper’s computers, electronic equipment and furniture.

“Every bit of it,” except, fortunately, its press, Douglas added.

Mount Airy News Publisher Ron Clausen said the extra work adds up to about 30,000 copies per week for the local team.

“It’s been causing a lot of stress,” Clausen said. “We’ve pretty much been working with our existing crew, causing a lot of overtime and a lot of workload.”

Clausen, who has been in the newspaper business for several decades, said he’s never experienced a shutdown of this magnitude.

In spite of the additional 30,000 or so copies a week, Clausen said moral has been good.

“We understand their situation down there,” he said. “Because we’re helping out some of our fellow employees and their communities, it gives a purpose.”

Press manager Roger Kirk estimated the workload adds about 3 hours to each employee’s shift.

“We’ve got a good crew, a very good crew,” he said. “Everyone has pitched in and made the extra effort. They went the extra mile for this. They’ve got the initiative. They realize if they needed help they could get it in return.”

Terri Trenter, mailroom manager who has worked for The News since 1995, also couldn’t recall a similar circumstance.

“The only one I remember was when our press room flooded,” she said.

Trenter had come into the pressroom to help stack inserts by hand and with Beth Johnson, who also works in the mailroom.

Jason Wood, pressman, also recalled when the local press had flooded.

“It was quite a mess,” Wood recalled. “I’ll never forget it.”

Wood said the flood left about 6 inches of standing water, which he said was nothing compared to the three feet in Lumberton.

“They’re definitely way worse off then we are,” he said.

“We fight like family, and we love each other like family.”

Getting the news out

Despite the destruction, Douglas stated that the newspaper was able to put out a complete edition every day, even if it didn’t get printed.

He worked remotely from a Charlotte command unit of sorts, with his managing editor and reporters working closer to town, plugging in laptops wherever they could, utilizing Facebook and the newspaper website.

“Every morning I got up and said, hello, good morning Robeson County, tell me what you need to know,” Douglas said. “We basically worked all day.”

While people didn’t have television, power or internet, “they did have phones,” he said. “It was really an opportunity for us to shine and to let people know what’s going on. I think we earned a lot of gravitas in the community,” he continued. “We were in a position to make life better during a very difficult time.”

Curt Vincent, editor of the Bladen Journal, runs a staff of only himself and one reporter.

Vincent lives in Lumberton and his commute to the Bladen newsroom was cut off for four days.

“We are the only newspaper in Bladen County,” Vincent said. “It’s important we get the information to individuals. It’s incumbent on us to do that.”

With the press offline, Vincent said he and his reporter pushed as much content to the website as possible, fueled by updates from the local schools, emergency responders and sheriff’s office.

“I was lucky enough to get my laptop plugged in at the Lumberton city hall,” he said.

Once the route connecting the two newsrooms opened on Thursday, several of The Robesonian employees set up shop in the Bladen Journal office.

Sherry Matthews, editor and publisher of the Sampson Independent, estimated that the storm was the fourth hurricane she’d experienced in 25 years with the paper.

“We’ve always managed to get the paper out. It may be late, but we get it out,” she said.

Matthews said the paper’s news coverage is transitioning from purely emergency information to stories of the human impact of the storm, and gradually, back to business as usual.

“We’re getting people’s minds not just on the storm but back to the things that they need to remember. They extended registration through tomorrow, and we needed to let people know those things as well. And we’re doing that too through the website, through the paper and on our Facebook page.”

Matthews also mentioned a community outreach box that lets folks who want to help know where and what help is needed and for those who need it where they can get it.

“The community really relies on us to provide them that information,” she said.

“Lumberton was hit very hard and everybody in this community knows that too so they’re very understanding. Those folks down there continue to be in our prayers because they’ve had it far more difficult than we have and I cannot express my thanks enough to Ron Clausen and the folks at Mount Airy for helping us get our paper out because if it hadn’t been for them jumping in and helping us, I really don’t know know what we would have done, because we were really at a loss.”

Terri Trenter, Beth Johnson and Jason Wood stack inserts in The Mount Airy News press room. Trenter, Beth Johnson and Jason Wood stack inserts in The Mount Airy News press room.

Jason Wood checks the press at The Mount Airy News Wood checks the press at The Mount Airy News

By Terri Flagg

Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.

Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.

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